Titan Ice Volcano?

Titan may harbor “ice volcanoes” and scientists have presented evidence for a likely candidate in the June 9 issue of Nature. Several images of the possible volcano were released to the Internet today by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Ice volcanoes may explain the high level of methane present in Titan’s atmosphere. Methane generally breaks down over a relatively short period of time. Scientists presume some active process keeps high levels of methane in the atmosphere but are unsure which process is at work. Oceans or lakes of liquid methane have previously been proposed as an explanation but neither the Cassini space probe nor the Huygens lander has detected them. The alternative? Ice volcanoes, also known as cryovolcanoes.

Images taken by Cassini using various wavelengths of light suggest a circular surface feature northeast of the Huygens probe landing site. Various compositional layers superimposed on each other may indicate different flows from the volcano. However, any “lava” deposits would be made of methane-ice mixtures, perhaps with other hydrocarbons and ammonia mixed in. Internal heating may provide enough melting to allow eruption of this material onto the moon’s surface.

Future Cassini flybys should help clarify the situation. Cassini is currently focusing on Saturn’s rings, but will return to closer inspection of Saturn’s moons in July.

More Information

Published by

Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a fiction writer and poet, with his first published poem forthcoming later in 2017 from Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (richardleis.com), on Goodreads (richardleis), his Micro.blog (@richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).